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Grape Love

As Valentine’s Day is this Saturday it is my duty (and a pleasurable one at that) to remind you of the many excellent ways you can express your love with a well chosen bottle of wine.  From the traditional to the unusual, a unique and delicious wine can set the right tone for a romantic evening, add the perfect accent to a cozy dinner for two or even express sentiments that words fail to convey.

Am I attributing too much power to a bottle of fermented grape juice? I think not.  From my (admittedly subjective) perspective drinking wine is about an experience of aroma and flavor that is much more fulfilling and fun when shared with another person.  I see Valentine’s Day as a perfect opportunity to experience a special bottle of wine with someone you care about.

For me, I like a rosado Cava on Valentine’s Day. The rosy hue fits in with the traditional color of the day and the bubbly wine always puts me in a celebratory mood. A white wine with a bit of extra weight and fruit character also fits the season quite well. To this end I suggest an Argentine Torrontes or an Albariño from Galicia that skews more toward the ripe style and away from the dry, flinty side of the Albariño flavor profile. For reds I think something complex and spicy but not overpowering would be a good choice for a celebration of romantic love. I have a few suggestions from South America that fit this category quite nicely, though in very different ways.

Paella Class: The first paella and wine class of the year is coming up at Kitchen on Fire cooking school here in Berkeley and a few tickets are still available. The date is Monday February 23rd at 6:30 pm. The cost is $65 per person and includes hands-on instruction to create several tapas and a large paella mixta, all of which will be consumed during the class. Several paella-friendly Spanish wines will also be sampled. Kitchen on Fire is handling the signup for this fun and popular class. Go to their website for more details. 

Cavas Hill Artesanía Brut Rosado Cava Just arrived for Valentine’s Day; this bright, rose tinted wine offers up aromas of fresh strawberry and toasted bread followed up by tangy citrus and crisp green apple flavor. Big bubbles refresh the palate and entice the appetite. $11.99

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado Cava I talk about this wine a lot, but now is the perfect moment to serve this sparkling rosado. It’s dark pink and bubbly, which may be all you need for the occasion, but this is also a deliciously berry scented yet still dry and refreshing cava that not only looks great in the glass but also offers up classic cava aroma and flavor at a reasonable price. $14.99

Reymos Espumoso de Moscatel Sweet sparkling wine from D.O. Valencia. Rich Muscat grape scent, bosc pear and honeydew melon fruit character with light but persistent bubbles. A mere 7.5% alcohol makes this the perfect end-of-meal wine. $11.99

Arte Mayor Brut Nature Cava Dominio de la Vega is a boutique Cava producer in Valencia. They make several wines with increasing levels of age and dryness. This wine is the driest and most mature of the bunch. Zero dosage creates a crisp, lean wine with fine minerality and toasted bread aroma. We got this at a big discount and are selling it the same way. Normally a $50 bottle, we have a few on hand for $28.99

Dominio de La Vega Brut Reserva Cava The same folks who make Arte Mayor Cava also create this Brut Reserva version with a mere hint of residual sugar from a light dosage. The blend here is 80% Macabeo and 20% Chardonnay.   Crisp, toasty character is supplemented by a bit of textural heft and a slight note of baked spiced apple. Also at a significant discount this wine which originally sold for $39.99 is now available for much less while supplies last. $24.99

Do Ferreiro Albariño 2007 The new vintage of this plush, abundant Albariño has just arrived. Gerardo Mendez blends the fruit from various parcels of his small 15 acre estate to create this finely tuned wine. Slatey mineral aroma leads on to rich melon and white peach fruit character with a grapefruit-like citrus note adding counterpoint to this top shelf Galician wine.  $25.99

Cicchitti Torrontes 2007 This new Torrontes offers a different take on Argentina’s indigenous white grape. Normally grown in the northern province of Salta, Torrontes wines are rich and honeyed with a snappy tang of acidity in the background. Cicchitti uses all estate fruit from their property in Mendoza to produce a more mineral wine that retains a bit of typical Torrontes density. This unoaked wine is rich and detailed with notes of ripe apple, green herbs and a bit of tangerine peel all combined in the glass. $14.99

Cicchitti Blend 2007  This Argentine red combines ripe fruity Malbec with the more structured Cabernet Sauvignon and then tops it off with a dash of Merlot (interestingly they only print the word ‘Merlot’ in small type, perhaps as a South American version of the ‘Sideways’ backlash against the ‘M-word’ grape). The ‘blend’ alluded to in the name is 60% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot sourced from vineyards in the Valle de Uco and Lujan de Cuyo sections of Mendoza. Bold and assertive, this wine is powerful yet restrained, a positive trait that I find in well made Argentine Cabs and Cab blends. $14.99

Cicchitti Malbec 2006 (375ml) The 100% Malbec wine from Bodegas Cicchitti is dark and earthy, displaying dried leaf aroma, restrained dark berry fruit character and dusty minerality. The balance on this wine is quite fine and elegant rather than the big boozy style that some Malbec wines express. This one is currently available here in the small 375ml size, just perfect for solo diners as well as gift givers. $9.99 

Azul Profundo Pinot Noir 2006 The fruit for this wine is sourced from the Bio Bio Valley, Chile’s southernmost grape growing region. This temperate region is quickly becoming one of the most highly regarded areas in Chile for wine production. This climate is well suited to growing the fickle Pinot Noir grape. Azul Profundo is a bright and fresh wine that is reminiscent of a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast of California or the Willamette valley in Oregon. Crystalline ruby color and fresh berry aroma create an intriguing first perception. Tart, pie cherry fruit character balances but never overwhelms subtle grapeskin tannins. This unoaked red is made in miniscule quantities (only 600 cases were produced) and each bottle is hand numbered. $19.99

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Filed under Argentina, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

Holiday Wines, Version 1.3, The Holiday Party Edition

It’s party season. Parties at the office, parties at friends houses, parties at home.  It can get overwhelming if you are not prepared. Long festive luncheons with old colleagues, slow Sunday suppers with relatives from out of town or an impromptu potluck in the break room at work can all be accomplished with ease if you have a well stocked pantry and/or wine cellar.

Foods that require little or no preparation are essential, as are tasty wines in a variety of styles.  A jar of our exclusive lemon stuffed olives, a wedge of 12 month aged Manchego cheese and a frothy bottle of Cava can go a long way toward creating a fun and celebratory atmosphere any time, anywhere. Silky and elegant red wines set the perfect tone at the dinner table and are perfect accompaniments to traditional slow cooked simple meals like Fabada made with genuine Asturian white beans, Chorizo and Morcilla sausage. Little ivory wedges of Almond Turrón and crumbly Mantecado cookies are well matched to aged, dark amber colored Amontillado or Oloroso from Jerez and make a perfect end to any holiday get together.

For a quick and tasty appetizer, try this recipe that I cobbled together after tasting an amazing version of this dish at my favorite local Portuguese restaurant, La Salette in Sonoma. I served this at a Port tasting that I put together a few weeks ago.  Since then I’ve had several requests for the recipe so I am printing it here for those who would like to make it at home.

 

Patê de Sardinha (Sardine Paté)

(serves 4 as an appetizer)

 

1-can Matiz sardines, drained

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup diced onion

2-tablespoons extra virgin cup olive oil

1-tablespoon mayonnaise

1-tablespoon chopped cilantro

1-tablespoon chopped parsley

1-tablespoon Piri Piri hot sauce

1-teaspoon salt

 

Put everything in the food processor and pulse to blend (should end up with a consistency somewhere between chopped liver and hummus). Adjust lemon juice/Piri Piri/salt to taste. Chill for one hour (or over night) and serve with crusty bread.

 

D’Abattis Gran Cava 2004 $17.99 This bone dry vintage sparkler, made from 100% Parellada (one of the traditional Cava grapes) is toasty and green apple crisp with fine bubbles and yeasty aroma. California winemaker, Master Sommelier and Bay Area resident Emmanuel Kemiji is involved in this traditional Catalan winery.  Serve this wine with a mix of fried lemon slices and tiny fried anchovies. Let the festivities ensue.

 

Mont Ferrant  Blanes Nature Cava 2003 $17.99 From one of the oldest Cava producers in Spain, this traditional blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo is bright, lively and very dry. Mont Ferrant also makes the ever-popular Brut Rosado Cava that many of you know and love. This wine is more traditional in style and makes an elegant cocktail as well as a dinner wine. Try it with oysters on the half shell.

 

Can Blau 2006 $17.99 The new vintage of this well loved red from the Montsant region has just arrived. This dark, opulent blend of Cariñena, Syrah and Garnacha is ripe and bold yet balanced too.  Previous vintages have all scored highly in the press and the new vintage is right up there quality-wise. For a soul warming winter meal, pour this with a traditional Cocido (the Spanish version of Italian ‘Bolito Misto’, or for you New Englanders, ‘Boiled Dinner’).

Azabache Graciano Reserva 2001 $19.99 Here’s an odd one for you. This is the only Reserva Rioja wine made from the rare Graciano grape. Usually Graciano, which accounts for a mere 5% of the annual harvest in Rioja, is used to blend in with the lighter Tempranillo. Graciano lends structure to blended Rioja. On its own, Graciano can be quite firm and tannic, but with 24 months in barrel followed by another two years of bottle ageing, the wine has become quite elegant and mature. If Crown Rib Roast is in your holiday plans, this wine will add the perfect Spanish accent to the meal.

 

Maestro Sierra Amontillado $21.99 (375 ml)

Maestro Sierra Oloroso $15.99 (375ml)

Maestro Sierra was founded in 1832 by Jose Antonio Sierra, who, as a master carpenter, was responsible for building barrels for all the major Sherry bodegas. Recognized as one of the top coopers in the area, he longed to become involved in the Sherry trade itself. As this business was dominated by the nobility, a start-up such as his was not very welcome. After many hardships he was able to establish and grow his business becoming one of the top Almacenistas (stockholders) of high quality Jerez wines. Poking fun at his struggle, the label depicts an allegorical fox hunt with the “Nobles” hunting the fox (Maestro Sierra).

Pilar Pla Pechovierto currently owns Maestro Sierra. Doña Pilar is a widow whose husband was a direct descendent of the Sierra family. She respected her husband’s wish that the winery remain in operation after his death and over the last thirty years she has kept the winery open, selling very limited stocks of wine to a few of the large bodegas. Because the wines have virtually remained unmoved due to the almost non existent business, the stocks at Maestro Sierra are some of the oldest in Jerez. The soleras at the winery are easily over 60 years old and some maybe close to 100 years old.

Maestro Sierra Amontillado is amber gold in color with a rich aroma of almonds and fresh hay. A very gentle note of raisin-like fruit character is present here. This wine pairs well with aged cheeses and cured meats. The Maestro Sierra Oloroso is dark amber with flavors of walnuts, butterscotch and figs. Serve this wine in a small glass to your special someone, after a big meal, on the bear skin rug, next to the roaring fire, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

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Filed under Fortified Wine, Recipes, Red Wine, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine

Holiday Wines, Version 1.0

Yes, my friends, it is that time of year again. The eating season is fast approaching, so it’s time to start thinking about big family meals, gift giving and general holiday merrymaking.  Thanksgiving is just two weeks away, with the rest of the annual end of year festivities following close behind.

At this time of year visiting family, friends and business associates all demand more than just your time and attention. They also want to be fed, and alongside something tasty to eat they will want a refreshing glass of something festive with which to toast your hospitality.  With this scenario in mind I offer you version 1.0 of our holiday wine buying guide. As the season progresses we will offer updates and new suggestions, always with the aim of supplying you with the best wines for whatever holiday plans you may have.

This week we focus on some basic requirements for the season; sparkling Cava and top shelf reds.

Cava is such a welcome and well priced wine that I feel it would be a disservice to you if I do not suggest that you pick up a mixed case of this Spanish bubbly to have on hand for organized as well as impromptu holiday get togethers. The prices are right and the wines go with just about anything.

Also popular at this time of year are rich red wines from top notch producers. Few gifts are as welcome as a great bottle of excellent red wine and bosses, clients, coworkers, friends and family members will well remember your thoughtful generosity long after the bottle is empty. And, if you work it right, you may even get to share in the joy of consuming these critically acclaimed celebrity wines (I suggest showing up for dinner with the wine in hand).  

Meanwhile, here is a little recipe from my new favorite cookbook to get you warmed up for even more fun in the kitchen as the season progresses.

 

Calabaza Rehogada-Fried Pumpkin (adapted from 1080 Recipes by Simone & Inés Ortega)

Serves 6 as a side dish

 

3 medium sized leeks

3 lb. pumpkin or butternut squash

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

3-4 slices of bread

3 cloves garlic

Salt

 

Cut leeks into 1 inch pieces and rinse well to remove sand. Peel and deseed pumpkin and cut in 1 inch cubes. Tear bread into 1/2 inch pieces. Cut garlic cloves in half. Simmer pumpkin in salted water until tender. Heat oil in large cazuela and fry bread until golden brown. Remove bread from oil and drain. Pour off all but a few tablespoons of oils and reheat cazuela. Add garlic and fry until brown (but not burnt). Remove garlic from oil and discard. Add leeks, pumpkin and fried bread to cazuela and cook over medium heat stirring often until leeks have softened and pumpkin starts to brown. Remove cazuela from heat, adjust salt and serve.

 

 

Cava:

Mont Ferrant Brut Rosado $14.99 I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Few wines make as welcoming and attractive a cocktail as a tall crystal flute full of this dark ruby colored wine. This rosado cava is a Brut wine so it’s quite dry, but a residual aroma of fresh berries adds youthful liveliness to this wine from one of the oldest Cava producers in Spain.

 

1+1=3 Brut $14.99 A traditional blend of Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel-lo grapes creates a crisp sparkling wine with yeasty aroma and bright citrus fruit character. This wine with a funny name is a bit richer in fruit than some (though still a dry wine) which makes it particularly well suited to serving with food.

 

Montsarra Brut $15.99 You may be familiar with this wine as served by the glass since it has long been a favorite of local restaurant and bar owners (they know quality when they taste it). This traditional Cava offers rich, leesy complexity at a very reasonable price. Assertive bubbles, toasty aroma and bright acidity are what you want in a top notch Cava and this one has them all in abundance.

 

Big Reds:

Alto Moncayo 2005 $43.00 Garnacha is the most widely planted red grape in Spain but you won’t find many as good as what Alto Moncayo makes in D.O. Campo de Borja just south of Rioja. Deep ruby color, extracted aromas of ripe berries and a bright, spicy character that is a perfect match for red meat.  Parker gave the 2004 a 94 point score, but has not yet reviewed the new vintage. Tanzer gave the 2005 a 92(+?) point score.  Her at The Spanish Table we don’t do point scores, but we do rate this one as muy tasty.

 

Alion 2003 $75.00 Vega Sicilia Unico is THE iconic Spanish wine from D.O. Ribera del Duero, but with the current 1996 vintage clocking in at $387.00 many of us will never try it. On the other hand, Vega Sicilia also makes Alion, and the new 2003 vintage of this wine is stunning. It’s rich. It’s earthy, it’s complex and powerful and balanced.  Parker gave this wine 94 points and Tanzer gave it 91. You can decide for yourself since we just got the wine last week.  It’s waiting for you.

 

Termanthia 2005 $195.00 This has to be one of the biggest of the big reds of the season. The 2004 vintage received a perfect 100point score from The Wine Advocate, a publication known for its appreciation of big red wines. The 2005 has just been released and, due to high demand, we got just a precious few bottles for our modest little store. Think single small parcel of 100-150 year old ungrafted Tinto de Toro, miniscule yields, extensive barrel age (20 months) in new oak and you start to understand what’s going on here. The 2005 vintage produced just over 4000 bottles of this wine, so demand will be high and quantities will be scarce. Act now if you want some.

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Filed under Recipes, Red Wine, rosado, Spain, Sparkling Wine, White Wine